Lowell as a model for Rhode Island historical park effort

A current editor of the Providence Journal who once worked for the “Lawrence Eagle-Tribune” wrote a column yesterday urging Rhode Islanders to look to Lowell’s experience in obtaining a National Park as the Ocean State attempts to secure the same for its Blackstone Valley corridor. Here’s how the author, John Kostrizewa, describes what occurred under the leadership of Paul Tsongas:

Tsongas was a local politician who built coalitions with city, state and federal officials as he climbed the ranks from congressman, to U.S. senator to candidate for president. He used that political foundation to lobby for state and federal money to renovate Lowell’s downtown and restore its mills while tamping down petty jealousies and divisions among who gets what. He also was able to broaden his political coalition in Lowell to include nonprofit and business leaders.

While that’s all true, Kostrzewa exercises a bit of selective amnesia which, I suppose is useful for any newspaper columnist. Here’s an example:

Tsongas liked to tell the story about a big hotel chain that planned to locate a $22-million property in the area. When the hotel executives attended a presentation about the Lowell Plan, they said it all sounded fine but they still intended to build the hotel on the outskirts of the city.

Wang and other corporate heads told them to go ahead and build where they wanted, but any client or customer who had anything to do with their companies would never stay a night in it. The hotel was built downtown.

The “Wang” would be An Wang, who built his world wide training center just across the Pawtucket Canal from the proposed site of the downtown hotel and guaranteed 60% occupancy of that hotel with students from his training center. We all know that by the time the mortar dried on the new hotel, Wang had declared bankruptcy and abandoned its training center. The hotel, a Hilton back then, never recovered. After working its way through several ownership groups, it eventually became the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center and is finally playing the central roll in downtown life that was originally envisioned for it. The Wang Training Center became and still is the Middlesex Community College Lowell Campus headquarters. Both the “hotel” and the “Wang training center” greatly benefit the city and its residents. It’s true that they’re both now government operations, but nothwithstanding what many say these days, the government is completely capable of running efficient operations that greatly benefit the community.